This is the second album from Belgian tenor saxophonist Arnaud Guichard's Serendip Quartet. The first, The Tale (Impeka, 2018), received a deserved four-star review on All About Jazz, and Queen Of Fire is just as good, if not better. The first album's singular intersection of Ben Webster and mild hallucinogenics is still there to be savoured, but this time out the abiding reference point veers towards John Coltrane.
The continuity running between the two albums does Guichard credit, because although the quartet's instrumentation remains the sametenor, electric guitar, double bass, drumsthe players have changed. The Tale was made with musicians based in London, where in 2018 Guichard, having completed his studies at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, was performing with the likes of drummer Moses Boyd, tenor saxophonist Mark Lockheart and pianist Zoe Rahman. Since then, he has returned to Belgium, and Queen Of Fire features three up-and-coming Brussels-based musicians: guitarist Florent Jeunieaux, bassist Jasper De Roeck and drummer Matthias De Waele. The disc is dedicated to the many thousands of women in the conflict-torn Democratic Republic of Congo who have been the victims of rape as an instrument of war. The country was once a Belgian colony and a brief sleeve note explains that Guichard has family members living there.
Guichard's tenor sound has acquired new depth since The Tale. It evokes Coltrane in various stages of his development from his first bandleader dates on Prestige in 1957 through mid-going-on-late period Impulse! circa 1965. At other times, there are the echoes of Webster spiced with a little mescalin (rather than, in Webster's real life, a lot of booze). And on the closing track there are passages which sound deliciously like a mid-twentieth century dance-band saxophonist playing lounge-y neo-bossa. De Roeck and De Waele stay in the background pretty much throughout, holding things steady. Jenuieaux is more noticeable, an effective purveyor of atmospheres, some of them gently trippy, with shades of Eivind Aarset. Queen Of Fire is an assured sophomore album. At a little over 31 minutes, it is rather on the brief side. But too short is better than too long. Following Guichard's progress promises to be time well spent.
I Am Just A Little Girl With A Dream; Fighting My Own Demons; Born To Be Free; Dancing My Desires; They Call Me The Queen Of Fire.
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Chris May is a senior editor of All About Jazz. He was previously the editor of the pioneering magazine Black Music & Jazz Review, and more recently editor of the style / culture / history magazine Jocks & Nerds.